town clockHalifax - 1917
• What was Halifax like in 1917?
Halifax 1786
A view of Halifax in 1786, from a painting by James S. Meres

Halifax was founded in 1749 in an effort by the British to gain a military stronghold in North America where they could rally against the French in Louisburg, Cape Breton. The harbour at Halifax with long-stretching coves and contours provided both safe haven for ships and excellent vantage points for fortifications. In addition to the military contingent, 2500 settlers, consisting of farmers, fisherman, and builders, and a handful of skilled craftsmen, stepped ashore to begin new lives and establish the village that would become the City of Halifax.

While Halifax grew as a center of military and naval activity, it also prospered as an important commercial center. Increased prosperity provided further opportunities for work in new businesses and industries, which relied on the sea as the primary means of import and export. Halifax attracted immigrants from England, Ireland, and other European countries, as well as the American Colonies.

The Coaling Yard
In the coaling yard dozens of men work fueling a British Naval ship.
in the distance, to the north, the Sugar Refinery.

By the time Halifax was incorporated as a city in 1841 the population had grown to 15,000. The growth of the military and the influx of labourers resulted in increased demands for housing and community services. On a typical week day it was possible to visit a tailor, a dressmaker, a milliner, drop off your laundry, check out the secondhand goods stores, pick up one of twenty-two newspapers, and buy a ticket from one of the twenty steamship lines.

North View Halifax
This north view shows the south end rail yards in the foreground,
the Sugar Refinery in the Richmond district, the Bedford Basin in the distance

The construction of roads and the railway encouraged further expansion of the city. To the north the "Richmond" community was bustling with industrial and residential growth. While the Graving Dock and the Railway were the primary employers, employment was also available in the Acadia, and the Hillis and Sons' Sugar Refineries, Gunn's Flour Mills and Richmond Printing. Factory owners, proprietors, managers, doctors, and labourers alike preferred to live in the place where they worked. The former in family homes, the latter in large boarding houses.

But life in Halifax was not all work and no play. As a testimony to the quality of life in Halifax the population had grown to 50,000 by 1917. Halifax was a vital cultural community. This vitality was reflected in improvements in education, and in the available forms of entertainment that included theatres, playhouses, orchestras, and vaudeville shows. Haligonians also took leisure in restaurants, libraries, boating, and curling clubs, and skating rinks. In addition to religious services churches offered a wide range of activities as social gatherings.

View of Dartmouth
Beyond a British naval vessel, a view of Dartmouth.

A population of 6500 lived and worked across the harbour in Dartmouth. Dartmouth was founded in 1750, incorporated as a town in 1873. While a much smaller community, Dartmouth was as well, sustained by numerous businesses - shipbuilding and sail making, gristmills, a tannery, a sugar refinery, a rope works - Consumers' Cordage, the Starr Manufacturing Company, the Halifax Brewery on the harbour shore, and Mott's Chocolate Factory. Dartmouth citizens enjoyed the benefits of tennis, golf, canoe, and rowing clubs, and a rink that rivaled those in Halifax. The Dartmouth churches also extended their ministries to a wide range of activities as social gathering.

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